So what exactly is a professional reference. Simply put, it is a reference from your past or current employer. But like many things in life, simple is not always better. In other words, professional references need to be nurtured and cultivated.

Professional work references can tell a prospective employer what to expect from you as an employee. If you’re looking for a new opportunity, you’ll need to provide some strong employment references to your prospective employer. It is important that you don’t just throw together a list of people, but actually take some time and put thought into who you ask give you the reference that will get you hired.

Most employers will ask for 3 or 4 professional references including direct managers – current and previous, peers, and direct reports if you are pursuing an accounting manager job.  Be sure to ask these people their permission and let them know if you’ve interviewed at a company that will be checking references so they will be waiting for their call and not caught off guard.  Share your resume with them and discuss your key skills and accomplishments.  Helping to prepare them, will make their reference that much effective for you.

These employment references should all be reasonably current. It’s understandable not to use your current boss if you’re still employed, so try to make them as current as possible. If you are currently in transition, your two most recent direct managers should be on your list. If they’re not, you’ll again be raising a question around your performance.

For additional information on job seeker privacy rights, check out Fact Sheet 16 from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

So, the rule of thumb here is, “don’t burn any bridges”.